Pope Francis has left the United States and is back at the Vatican. His speeches to Congress, the United Nations and the Conference on Families, along with his sermons, visits to those in need and distress and his rock star presence to the faithful and faithless, have re-energized the Catholic Church in this country and solidified his position as a moral leader to be reckoned with.
So what can we make of the Pope’s visit to the United States? First and foremost it is important to recognize that Francis is not an ideologue in the sense that we have come to understand that term. He is not a liberal or a conservative; rather he is doctrinaire, meaning that he is committed to upholding the long established doctrines of the Catholic Church.
As he spoke throughout his visit it became clear that Francis is not going to budge from the Church’s position on male only priests, the traditional view of marriage, religious liberty, opposition to birth control, and of course the right to life ( not just abortion but his surprising opposition to capital punishment). Even opening up the sacraments to divorced Catholics is just wishful thinking and speculation. For those hoping that the Pope would champion change in church doctrine, those hopes must be dashed.
But what the Pope has changed is the Catholic Church’s long dormant commitment to the poor, the disenfranchised, the immigrant, the forgotten. Pope Francis exhibits boundless humanity and is using his moral authority to remind all of us that we must work for justice, peace, cooperation, and opportunity for all. Although Francis did not use the words, ” Can we all just get along”, his constant message is that we have an obligation as humans to help those in need, to protect the planet, to work with our enemies, and to ensure that no one is left behind.
It will be interesting to see the impact of the Pope’s messages on those who wield power in every sector of American society. The media gushed over the Pope, political leaders took a break from their penchant for piling on, and Americans who watched and listened began thinking about the homeless, climate change, income inequality, immigration, and equal opportunity. The Pope reminded all who would listen about the Golden Rule, Jesus’ commitment to the underclass, and the human value of seeing the face of God in those who have little or are demonized.
It is certainly fair to state that the Pope’s visit was a huge success, but not from the standpoint of changing the foundations of the Catholic Church. Rather the visit was a success in that it reminded us of our responsibility to give of ourselves, to help others, to do good, and to live a life of love and peace. That’s a powerful message of change by any measure.